Second Row-poets Rodger Martin, Barbara Bard, Phyllis Katz,
and Lindsey Coombs.
This fall, I was contacted by Andrew Lapham Fersch, teacher and writer who, a few years ago, started a small school program “designed to take the place of a standard public or private school education" for young people who are passionate about learning and who “may not feel appropriately challenged in their current educational system.” The program encourages students “to have a voice in what they are learning and doing in their life.”
As part of his Poetry “Syllabus” Fersch asked me and four other poets to participate. Each poet would work with an individual student. The student was given a book of the poet’s poems, asked to read the poems, and to write to the poet in depth about three of the poems. On Monday, March 23, I and the other poets went to Newmarket, NH to meet our students and spend an hour with them in an individual workshop. I worked with my student, Griffen, on how to read a poem, how to look at its form, its use of language, poetic devices, line ends. After the work shop we joined the students and their parents for a dinner, following by a short poetry reading. Each student had memorized and recited one of the poet’s poems; none of them chose a short poem. Griffen, recited my poem "On Climbing Ayer's Rock." (see below).
“The Penn Program comes from the idea that when teachers, students, and families work together—in every aspect of education—that the result will be a culture of community, of learning, and of caring.” The evening of poetry under the aegis of The Penn Program was a clear demonstration of idea in action.
To find out more about the program see:
Andrew Lapham Fersch is a teacher and a writer. A graduate of the University of New Hampshire Masters education program, Fersch has taught in the Seacoast area for the past four years. Fersch was a nominee for the 2012 and 2015 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, and has been avidly writing children’s poetry and short stories for years.
Reflections on Climbing Ayer’s Rock
It is not the great red sandstone rock itself
that terrifies, though the way it rises like a mighty island
from the dry and barren plain impresses,
not its height or girth, nor its isolation,
not its age or geological origin.
No! but there’s a power in the rock,
you do not feel when you begin. You think
it’s just a rock, a giant sandstone
rock, another climb you want to make and will.
It's not the warning signs you’ve read below,
lists of those who’ve fallen to their deaths--
you’ve climbed before, have stood on canyon rims,
walked paths too narrow for a mountain goat.
You know the risks. You’ve never fallen.
You think it’s just an ordinary climb.
It’s not. It is not the going up the naked trail,
the hand rope you must stoop to reach,
or the way the bending slope offers no place
to catch you if you slip,
but half way up, you sense a force
that wants you down.
You’ve read the sign
that tells you the aborigines
will not climb this rock
but hold it sacred, its trail a dream track
only spirits walk. For them
the great rock’s name is Uluru.
It’s not that you’re a coward, not
that you believe in spirits. You don’t!
But you have felt a sudden earthquake
in your heart, a trembling weakness in your legs,
and a hand that wants to push you off.
Phyllis B. Katz, Published in Migrations, 2013